By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The most impressive film in the Berlin competition, Ade’s remarkable second feature (her first was the auspicious The Forest for the Trees) takes a familiar domestic situation and uses it to explore a complex range of social and class issues that make this simple two-hander come close to feeling like a defining portrait of an entire upper-middle-class generation — a movie that does for the ’00s what Richard Yates did for the 1950s. It’s a wonderfully free, in-the-moment work that confirms Ade as a standout of the loosely defined movement known as the “Berlin School,” whose members (including directors Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan and Ulrich Köhler) make small, personal films deeply concerned with matters of individual and national identity, and who largely dwell in the shadows of the glossy, popular German hits (Downfall, Goodbye Lenin, The Lives of Others) embraced by international audiences and Oscar voters.
Which brings me back to Elly — or rather, Elley. Derek Elley, that is. The longtime London-based film critic for Variety, Elley dismissed Everyone Else in a 190-word review published mere hours after its first Berlin press screening; he described Ade’s film as “fuzzy filmmaking of the worst sort” and “an extraordinary choice for a competition slot at Berlin,” adding that, in his professional opinion, “pic is headed nowhere.” Under normal circumstances, I’d be loathe to call out another critic by name — especially a former Variety colleague — over a mere difference of opinion. But in Elley’s case, the circumstances are hardly normal. With increasingly vituperative vigor over the past decade, he has used the pages of the influential trade publication to attack great swaths of the most progressive and innovative contemporary world cinema — a scorched-earth policy that has left the Portuguese director Pedro Costa and China’s Jia Zhangke similarly burned in its wake, the latter having been panned by Elley so many times now that one can only wonder why he still bothers to see Jia’s films. Thankfully, in Ade’s case, the Berlin jury begged to differ, awarding Everyone Else the Grand Jury Prize and naming Minichmayr Best Actress. To which I would add that, in my own professional opinion, this “pic” will travel quite far indeed on the international festival and cinematheque circuit and, with luck, to art-house cinemas, too.
There was literal food for thought on display in Terra Madre, a feature-length documentary by Italian maestro Ermanno Olmi (The Tree of the Wooden Clogs), which begins as a somewhat rudimentary record of a 2006 slow-food food conference in Turin but soon ventures outside for a series of lyrical encounters with local growers in remote corners of India and Northern Italy. Meanwhile, a different connection between people and produce could be found in Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s strikingly assured second feature, The Milk of Sorrow, whose main character, a timid and superstitious village girl named Fausta (the Modigliani-worthy Magaly Solier), believes she has been cursed by her mother’s breast milk and keeps a potato lodged inside her vagina.
The potato is at once a self-defense mechanism and a reminder of the 20 years of guerilla warfare and state-sponsored terrorism during which thousands of Peruvian women were raped and murdered. But the times they are a-changin’, for Peru and for Fausta, who takes a job as a housemaid in order to earn money for her mother’s funeral, whereupon she slowly begins to emerge from her shell. Despite the film’s superficial trappings of Third World miserablism and Von Trier–ian female martyrdom, Llosa (whose promising debut feature, Madeinusa, screened at Sundance in 2007) has her own wholly original, almost unclassifiable style that blends indigenous folklore with a discrete political subtext, sardonic dark humor and the ravishing compositions of cinemtographer Natasha Braier. When The Milk of Sorrow was announced as the winner of Berlin’s highest award, the Golden Bear, a festival shrouded in the gloom of globalization seemed to end on the hopeful note of a new harvest.
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